School of Law Magazine


This issue of St.Thomas Lawyer focuses on the Justice Gap – a theme that was chosen months before stay-at-home orders were announced, social distancing was required and online learning and working became the norm. While unknown at the time it was chosen, this topic has even more relevance amid the current global pandemic. The Justice Gap is defined as the difference between the civil legal needs of the poor and the resources available to meet those needs. It affects more than 60 million Americans, including seniors, those with disabilities and low-income families — the same groups who have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus and the economic upheaval left in its wake. The full impact of the pandemic is still unknown, but even before the current health crisis, these individuals were unable to afford a lawyer to assist them with basic needs such as stable and safe

housing, reliable transportation and fair employment. Now more than ever, we must live our law school’s mission to ‘integrate faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice’ and commit to addressing and closing the Justice Gap in America.

ST.THOMAS Lawyer Spring 2020 – Volume 13, Issue 2

Published by the University of St. Thomas School of Law 1000 LaSalle Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55403 (651) 962-4892

28 Senior Marketing Program Manager Carrie Hilger Editor Patricia Petersen Designer Carol Garner Photographers Mark Brown Liam James Doyle Contributors


A Message From the Dean




Advocating for Juveniles


Serving Those Who Served

What Happens to Those Who Can’t Afford an Attorney?


Jessie Nicholson: And Justice for All Community Justice Project Students Confront Issues

Lisa Montpetit Brabbit Amy Carlson Gustafson Gloria Sonnen Myre Shukrani Nangwala Jordan Osterman Brant Skogrand Robert Vischer Front cover Hiring a lawyer is out of reach





Class Notes

for more than 60 million Americans. The School of Law is working hard to find ways to close this justice gap. Back cover Photo by Carrie Hilger

Facebook @ustlawmn Twitter @ustlawmn Instagram @ustlawmn

The University of St. Thomas is an equal opportunity educator and employer. St. Thomas does not unlawfully discriminate, in any of its programs or activities, on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, family status, disability, age, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, membership or activity in a local commission, genetic information or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.

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AT ST. THOMAS LAW, our mission compels us to tackle the justice gap.

As I write this, we are several weeks into a pandemic-required transformation into a fully online law school. I am grateful for the technology that permits us to stay connected, but I miss the daily face-to-face interactions with students and colleagues. When I reflect on the magazine’s theme for this issue – the justice gap – I think back fondly to the hustle and bustle of a full atrium on the first day of

orientation. During orientation week at St. Thomas, the first case our students read is Buck v. Bell , the Supreme Court’s 1927 ruling in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes proclaimed that “three generations of imbeciles are enough” in upholding forced sterilizations against women deemed mentally deficient. While students are alarmed by the state laws in force at the time – the product of the eugenics movement – they are also troubled to learn that the state’s evidence of “three generations of imbeciles” was flimsy at best, and readily available positive evidence of Carrie Buck’s intelligence was never even presented to the courts. Indeed, no evidence was introduced on Buck’s behalf, as her conflicted attorney made no meaningful attempt to advocate for her. Buck v. Bell is a jarring example of the injustices that result when our legal system does not give a voice to those whose lives depend on it. Unfortunately, the voiceless are very much with us today. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) reports that 86% of the civil legal problems experienced by low-income Americans receive inadequate or no legal help. According to the World Justice Project’s survey data, the United States ranks dead last (36th out of 36) among high-income countries on the question of whether people can access and afford civil justice. As a Catholic law school, what is our responsibility? Pope Francis has urged all of us to recognize our “duty to hear the voice of the poor.” As lawyers, we not only have the duty to hear the poor, we have the power to lift the voices of the poor, to ensure that they are heard by the legal system’s decision-makers. This recognition must shape who we are as a law school community, and who we aspire to be. In choosing Buck v. Bell as the first case our students read, we hope that they are jolted by injustice. But that’s only the starting point on a career-long journey. We hope that our students and alumni will always view St. Thomas Law as a community that helped motivate and equip them to confront and challenge injustice. This issue of St. Thomas Lawyer explains how we’re working every day to make that hope a reality. If you have ideas for how we can improve in this effort, please contact me at or (651) 962-4838 .

Robert K. Vischer Dean and Mengler Chair in Law University of St. Thomas School of Law

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JerryOrgan has been named the inaugural Bakken Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Organ is a foundingmember of the St. Thomas Law faculty. “Jerry has earned a reputation as a gifted classroom teacher who cares deeply about his students. He is one of our finest teachers and consistently receives glowing student evaluations,” law school Dean Robert Vischer said at Organ’s investiture ceremony on Feb. 6. “Jerry has become a national leader on research into issues associated with the culture of law school and the formation of professional identity. I’ve seen him speak many times at academic conferences, and he attracts an enthusiastic following. His research is both data and mission driven. He brings a big mind for numbers and a big heart together in ways not often seen in the academy.” JERRY ORGAN NAMED INAUGURAL BAKKEN PROFESSOR OF LAW

The Bakken professorshipwas named for Earl Bakken, the founder of Medtronic. It is intended to support the work of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at St. Thomas Law, of whichOrgan serves as co-director.


The book Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment (Oxford University Press, 2016), co-authored by Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Joel Nichols , will be translated into Spanish and published later this year in Ecuador.

Cambridge University Press recently published a new book, Great Christian Jurists in American History , that includes chapters authored by St. Thomas Law faculty members Charles Reid and Tom Berg . Reid wrote a profile of John T. Noonan Jr., a circuit court judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Berg’s chapter profiles U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In December, a book co-edited by Berg, Patents on Life: Religious, Moral, and Social Justice Aspects of Biotechnology and Intellectual Property , also was published by Cambridge University Press.

Charles Reid

Joel Nichols

Tom Berg

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IN MEMORY OF JONATHAN HUSTED On Jan. 31, third-year law student Jonathan (Jon) Husted passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. Husted grew up in Owego, New York, and earned a degree in chemical engineering from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, in 2005. He worked as a business consultant with Accenture for several years before attending law school where he was a member, and most recently the director, of the school’s ABA Negotiations Team. Husted also was involved in several other student groups, including the Environmental Law Society, American Constitutional Society, Criminal Law Association and the Sports, Entertainment and Media Law Society. Last year, he was a summer associate with Lathrop GPM (formerly Gray Plant Mooty) and was looking forward to beginning his legal career with them this fall. In May, Husted was awarded his J.D. degree posthumously. He is survived by his loving wife, Kristin Johnson, who is a second-year law student at St. Thomas.

STUDENT AWARDED IMMIGRATION JUSTICE CORPS FELLOWSHIP Third-year law student MichelleGonzalez has been awarded a post- graduate fellowship with Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC). She is one of just 26 law students from across the country to be chosen by IJC as a Justice Fellow in 2020. As the daughter of immigrants, Gonzalez says she is passionate about human rights and immigration issues. During her fellowship she will serve for two years as a staff attorney at the Safe Horizon Immigration Law Project in Brooklyn, New York, which provides legal assistance to low-income immigrants in an array of immigration matters including deportation defense and affirmative applications for those fleeing persecution. “Michelle has shown a continued commitment and passion toward advocating for immigrants,” Robins Kaplan Director of Clinical Education and Law Professor Virgil Wiebe said. “She is extraordinarily good- natured, but also refreshingly blunt when needed. Michelle has the drive, grit and skill necessary to be a powerful part of a nonprofit team.” Gonzalez will begin her fellowship with the Safe Horizon Immigration Law Project in September 2020.

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Brunch on Nov. 2, the School of Law honored Summra Mohammadee Shariff ‘07 J.D. as the 2019 Law Alumna Achievement Award recipient. Shariff is the executive director and president of Twin Cities Diversity in Practice (TCDIP), a professional association that works to strengthen the efforts of law firms and in-house legal departments in the Twin Cities to recruit, advance and retain attorneys of color and create a vibrant and inclusive legal community. “Anyone who has spent 10 minutes with Summra has been touched by her magic,” Anna Petosky ’07 J.D .

Summra Mohammadee Shariff ’07 J.D., right, was presented the 2019 Law Alumna Achievement Award by Anna Petosky ’07 J.D. and Erin Bryan ’08 J.D. at the annual Alumnae Brunch.

said at the brunch in her introduction of her former classmate and friend. “She is at once thoughtful, intelligent and serious. And in any conversation, she can be counted on to lend an important, practical and often unique perspective. At the same time, nearly any encounter with Summra will be punctuated by her infectious laughter and her disarming sense of humor. “But we are not here today just because Summra is a delightful human,” Petosky continued. “We are here to celebrate a distinguished alumna who has consistently lived her values, in particular, of service and of a commitment to increasing and promoting diversity in the [legal] profession and in the Twin Cities business community.”


The Infinity Project will now be housed at St. Thomas Law. The project is a multi-state collaborative network of judges, lawyers and legal scholars whose mission is to increase the gender diversity of the state and federal bench to ensure the quality of justice in the Eighth Circuit.

“We are thrilled to have The Infinity Project join us at St. Thomas,” said Associate Dean Lisa Montpetit Brabbit, one of the organization’s founders and a past president. “The organization’s mission and the work that it is doing will be a great addition to our law school.” Though St. Thomas Law is now its sponsoring institution, The Infinity Project will remain an independent organization, with its own staff, board of directors and finances.

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SUPREME COURT HEARING The Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments in State v. Jorgenson at the School of Law in early March.


In response to the pandemic, Phil Steger ’13 J.D ., who is the owner of Brother Justus Whiskey, has put distilling on hold to partner with other Twin Cities distilleries to form All Hands and make hand sanitizer for area shelters, congregate care facilities, first responders and other high-risk organizations on the front lines. “Brother Justus is just a drop in the ocean of need, so we are focusing all our efforts on directing those drops to where they will do the most good for the most vulnerable and have the biggest impact on ‘flattening the curve,’” said Steger. “When we delivered one of our distillery’s first buckets of hand sanitizer, staff at Higher Ground in downtown St. Paul met us with the biggest grins! By the looks of it, there were only one or two pumps left in the last bottle they had, and guests were lining up at the door.”

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HARRIET OYERA BECOMES A CITIZEN Harriet Oyera was featured in the fall issue of the University of St. Thomas’ magazine for undergraduate and graduate alumni. Oyera became connected with St. Thomas in 2006, soon after she fled to the U.S. from Uganda. With the help of St. Thomas’ Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services (IPC), Oyera – and, years later, her three children – were able to secure asylum and work permits. Read the full update on Oyera, including how she recently became a U.S. citizen and is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at St. Thomas, at She is pictured here with School of Social Work Professor and Director of the IPC’s Social Work Services, George Baboila , left, and Law School Professor and Director of the IPC’s Legal Clinics Virgil Wiebe , right.

VISIT TO GUATEMALA In February, Dean Robert Vischer and Director of Global Outreach Cristina Calderón traveled to Guatemala. While there, they connected with alumni and visited three partner law schools to talk with students about opportunities to study at St. Thomas and enrich the St. Thomas Law campus with their international legal experience.

Robert Vischer, Carlos Camey ‘16 LL.M., Universidad del Istmo Dean Jary Méndez and Cristina Calderón

Robert Vischer and Cristina Calderón gather with alumni, school partners

and prospective students at a reception in Guatemala City.

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RESTORATIVE JUSTICE SYMPOSIUM Author and Assistant Cook County, Illinois, Public Defender Jeanne Bishop was the keynote speaker at St. Thomas Law Journal’s fall symposium, “Restorative Justice, Law and Healing.” She is pictured here with Nathaniel Fouch ’20 J.D. , left, and Professor Hank Shea , right. In contrast to more traditional methods of punishment, restorative justice emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior and focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation (when available) with victims and the community at large.

The event also featured a panel that included, from left to right, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Stephanie Wiersma ’13 J.D. , director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis TimO’Malley, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Tom Johnson of Lathrop GPM, who served as an ombudsperson for the archdiocese. Restorative justice was part of the archdiocese’s settlement agreement with Ramsey County over criminal and civil charges of failing to protect children against clergy abuse.

LUANN HUDSON RETIRES LuAnn Hudson , administrative assistant to the dean, retired in February, after nearly two decades at the School of Law. Best wishes, LuAnn! Thank you for your many dedicated years of service to the students, staff and faculty of the law school.

PUBLIC SERVICE DAY St. Thomas Law’s Public Service Board, along with the St. Thomas Environmental Law Society, held a fall service day at Gibbs Farm in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, in October.

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ADVOCATING FOR JUVENILES Student attorneys in the Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic help clients navigate the justice system.



Photos by Mark Brown

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Assistant Professor Rachel Moran leads the Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic.

Clinic students discuss a case. From the left: Aaron Bostrom, Katherine Boland and Dolapo Oshin.

The clinic handles a variety of cases, from petty, regular and gross misdemeanors to, occasionally, felonies. Client cases, while varying by semester, are on average 60% juvenile cases and 40% adult cases. Judges who have worked with the clinic come away impressed. “The student attorneys are always very well prepared, quite poised, and they are zealous and effective advocates for their clients,” said 4th Judicial District Judge Mark Kappelhoff, who has seen firsthand the clinic’s impact in his court. “In our criminal justice system, it is critically important that those who are accused of a criminal offense are provided effective counsel to represent their rights during the course of a criminal case,” he said. “By representing youth in juvenile court who may not have an attorney, the student attorneys from the clinic are providing important legal services to these clients, which, in turn, helps to improve the juvenile justice system in Hennepin County.” Hennepin County asked the clinic to represent teens charged with serious traffic offenses (reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident, etc.) because public defenders are not assigned to civil cases. Before the clinic’s existence, most of the teens in those cases just went unrepresented. As a result of not having attorney representation, they pled guilty.

The clinic represents clients all the way through resolution of their cases, which could include a dismissal of the charges, a guilty plea or going to trial. The length of cases can range from just a couple of weeks to longer than a couple of semesters. The clinic also handles expungement cases. “There is a huge need in Minnesota for people who have previously been charged and sometimes convicted, to have criminal charges on their record wiped away,” Moran said. “There is no free attorney provided [by the state] for people who are seeking to expunge those records. Criminal charges cause huge problems for people with housing, employment, schooling … in certain occupations – you’re automatically excluded from them if you have a certain type of conviction.” The clinic currently is handling six expungement cases. One deals with a woman who committed a crime (“out of desperation associated with poverty,” according to Moran) many years ago. “It has been a thorn in her side for years,” Moran said. “It has kept her from having stable housing; it has been the reason she’s been denied many, many jobs. She had numerous jobs where she had made it to the end of the process, told that she would get the job, but when [the employer] ran the background check, she was told, ‘Actually, no.’”

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Law student Eduardo Salgado Diaz conducts a mock witness examination as part of the Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic.

The woman, a mother of two young children, was worried about what this was doing to them. The law student team successfully had her case expunged last fall. “She [the client] cried and was hugging the students outside the courtroom. It was pretty moving,” Moran said. “[In our profession] a lot of people go in thinking that they want to help folks, but sometimes that’s actually hard to achieve. When you see it happen right in front of you, it’s so rewarding and even overwhelming.” TO THE MINNESOTA SUPREME COURT One post-conviction case handled by the clinic is with the Minnesota Supreme Court (as of when this article went to press). The clinic took on the case, which involves an incarcerated man, at the district court level. Joseph Cavello 3L is one of the students working on the case. “This was one of the most transformative cases [for me] because I had worked in a prison ministry writing letters to more than 100 incarcerated individuals

for a year, so I had developed relationships with men in prison before,” he said. “To actually go and visit our client in person was quite a new experience for me.” At first, Cavello was nervous, because he had never visited a prison. “It was really good to see what a nice individual he was. We had normal conversations about ordinary things,” Cavello said. “To be able to encounter someone who was in a position like his, to see that he had a story behind how he got to where he was, that having somebody listen to his story – give him an ear – and be a real friend to him, was powerful.” CLIENT-CENTERED Moran called client-centeredness one of the key components of the clinic’s model of representation. “It’s not us coming in and deciding what is best for the client,” she said. “It’s us working with the clients to help them think through what they want to achieve in their case and then doing our best to achieve what the client has decided.”

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Assistant Professor Rachel Moran leads a discussion with the clinic students: Katherine Boland, Dolapo Oshin, Eduardo Salgado Diaz, Caitlin Levy, Aaron Bostrom and Allison Freese.

Being a part of the clinic has opened the eyes of the student attorneys to the realities of the legal system. “We shouldn’t take people’s licenses away for not being able to pay minor traffic fines, which is the current state of the law,” said clinic participant Leyla Bari 3L . “We’re against any imposition of fines on an indigent population, and people don’t realize what a serious issue that is,” Christopher Sharpe 2L added. “Just being in the clinic for a couple of months, we realized that imposition of fines on people who can’t pay them is a debilitating factor in the cycle of poverty.” “[The justice system] is very difficult to navigate for some of our clients,” Cavello said. “It’s not an easy system to navigate whether you’re guilty or innocent – it doesn’t matter. It’s really powerful for these clients to have somebody who goes in and fights for them and advocates for them; it’s hard enough even for someone studying law to navigate it.” REACHING HOMELESS AND VULNERABLE POPULATIONS Moran and her student attorneys have taken many steps to reach more people who could benefit from the clinic. For instance, in partnership with the Minneapolis Police Department Homeless and Vulnerable Population Initiative, student attorneys have ridden along with officers. They also meet with people at a

coffee shop, The Hub, operated by a church just south of downtown Minneapolis. In addition, Moran and her student attorneys participated in Hennepin County’s first Juvenile Warrant Forgiveness Day and Community Resource Fair last fall. Beyond helping clients, the clinic may be inspiring future attorneys. “We have had a couple of teenage clients who have said at the end, ‘I want to be a lawyer now,’” Moran said. “That’s really cool. I love that! I love that they connected enough with our students that they saw some reason for inspiration or motivation.” She also wants to build the reputation of the clinic as one that provides effective, zealous representation for its clients. Eventually, Moran wants to see enough graduates go through the clinic that the way people practice criminal defense is changed.

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admissible hearsay Overheard in and around the University of St. Thomas School of Law

“Better Angels is attempting to develop the capacity of …Americans to engage in respectful conversations, where we humanize the other side. The goal is not to agree on the issues, but to find some of our common humanity and to help our polarized nation.” – BILL DOHERTY , CO-FOUNDER OF THE NONPROFIT BETTER ANGELS, AT THE LAW SCHOOL’S SPRING MISSION ROUNDTABLE

“A rule governing parental leave is an idea whose time has come. As the bench and bar continue to focus on initiatives to advance equity and well-being within the profession, designated rules on professional leave speak to both.”


“Catholic social teaching concepts of subsidiarity and solidarity provide the guiding principles to integrate participation, because together they can account for all stakeholders while advancing business goals.” – PROFESSOR MARIANA H.C. GONSTEAD AND RACHANA CHHIN ‘15 J.D./CSMA IN THE ARTICLE THEY CO-WROTE, “GOD’S PARTICIPATORY VISION OF A GLOBAL SYMPHONY: CATHOLIC BUSINESS LEADERS INTEGRATING TALENTS THROUGH DISPUTE AND SHARED DECISION SYSTEM DESIGN,” IN THE HUMANISTIC MANAGEMENT JOURNAL “Presidents don’t leave their core values behind when approaching clemency. President Trump’s reliance on public figures to guide him (rather than the institutional pardon process) should not surprise us, and it is within the Constitution’s norms.” – PROFESSOR MARK OSLER @OSLERGUY IN A TWEET AFTER HEARING THAT HIGH-PROFILE INDIVIDUALS WERE GRANTED CLEMENCY BY PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP “I have spent most of my adult life drafting, supporting and litigating abortion legislation. I am convinced that we gain little by a frontal attack at this time. Every case we lose further entrenches the judicially created myth that abortion is a constitutional or, even worse, a human right.” – PROFESSOR TERESA COLLETT IN AN OPINION ARTICLE FOR USA TODAY TITLED, “PRO-LIFE LAWYER: I WANT ABORTION ABOLISHED, BUT DIRECT CHALLENGES TO ROE HURT OUR CAUSE”

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Sitting at a folding table in the atrium balcony of the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center, Eddie Ocampo ’18 J.D. counsels a veteran about employment issues relating to a military service-connected disability. Nearby, other volunteer attorneys with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) Vetlaw program meet with clients about housing, real estate, criminal expungement, debt collection, estate planning and family law matters. An oversized American flag hangs overhead, and veterans visiting for health care appointments enter and exit the building below. The air is filled with conversation and foot traffic and patriotism.

information, referrals and legal advice on most legal topics. Vetlaw clinics are held multiple times each month at locations across the state, and are primarily staffed by volunteers. “As a statewide program with only two attorneys,” said Sara Sommarstrom, Vetlaw’s director, “the success of Vetlaw clinics depends on the generosity of volunteer attorneys, legal professionals and law students to help the legal needs of at-risk Minnesota veterans.” Sommarstrom, who has worked with the veteran population for a decade, observed, “The prevailing wisdom says it is difficult for veterans to ask for help. I think part of the reason for that is the public view of our service members as one of two extremes – superheroes or broken – combined with their military training that often encourages them to take care of matters themselves rather than reach out when they need assistance. The veterans I have met and worked with over the years are as diverse as civilian society, with most living between those extremes.” For University of St. Thomas School of Law alumni who volunteer with the Vetlaw program, clinics are an important way of serving those who served. Their connection to the veteran community is often personal. Our alumni Vetlaw volunteers include veterans, those who wanted to serve but were denied, friends and family of veterans, and those who admire veterans. These accomplished attorneys are living the law school’s mission by serving veterans in need.


Alumni Volunteer in the Vetlaw Program


Eddie Ocampo

Since 1990, MACV has provided nonprofit services to Minnesota veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including transitional housing, employment assistance, rental assistance and legal assistance. The Vetlaw program gives at-risk veterans access to justice through legal

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As Ocampo put it, “[Veterans are] a population that at some point early in their life signed a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount up to, and including, their life. It is now on us to show them our appreciation and gratitude for their service.”

VETERANS SERVING VETERANS After five years in the Marine Corps and deploying to

Afghanistan, Ocampo spent the next decade as a civilian struggling to process his deployment experience. He met countless veterans with the same challenges, many of whom had legal problems that were compounded by mental health issues. In 2015, Ocampo entered law school to get involved with veterans’ advocacy. Through a law school mentor, he discovered the Vetlaw program. For Ocampo, who is now an employment litigator at Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis, the most rewarding part of Vetlaw clinics is connecting with and relating to the clients. “Generally, I approach most communications using military jargon, inter-service banter, and through the unique ingrained military sense of humor we share – not an approach I can take with most clients in my practice,” Ocampo said. “This approach is very much appreciated in diffusing what is almost always a difficult conversation. Over the years, I have learned that being able to relate to a veteran is incredibly powerful, especially during a time when they find it difficult to trust someone or to open up and seek help.” Charlie Nelson ’11 J.D. , a financial restructuring and bankruptcy

Charlie Nelson

Jon Wolf

missions. Best has nevertheless experienced a strong connection with his Vetlaw clients through their shared service background, which tends to give way to an honest dialogue about difficult issues. Best noted that attorneys have a choice in their pro bono service, and he encourages people to “have a system for giving back regularly to a cause they believe in.” For him, working with veterans “just feels like the right thing to do.” ‘THERE ARE A LOT OF WAYS TO SERVE YOUR COUNTRY’ Jon Wolf ’11 J.D. , a litigator at Rinke Noonan in St. Cloud, Minnesota, wanted to join the military and got as far as his Military Entrance Processing Station before being medically disqualified. Wolf was disappointed but took seriously a message from his military science instructor, who said, “There are a lot of ways to serve your country and being in the military is just one of them. Keep your eyes open and you’ll find others.” For Wolf, volunteering for the Vetlaw program is a way to “give back to our country as well as individually to people

attorney at Ballard Spahr in Minneapolis, served 10 years in the Air Force. Nelson credits his military service for his professional success: “My training and work experience in the military are the foundation of where I am now – I wouldn’t be a lawyer without it.” Similar to Ocampo, Nelson starts his Vetlaw clinic intake conversations “focused on learning about the veteran and their military service. I’m always humbled to learn about the sacrifices others have made for me, my family and friends, and our community and country. That’s the most rewarding part – connecting on a personal level with our veterans about their experiences in the military.” Though Nelson left the military years ago, he continues to have a strong desire to serve others. “I can think of no better group of people to offer pro bono services to than our veterans.” David Best ’14 J.D. , a family law attorney with Bushnell & Best in Shoreview, Minnesota, also served in the Air Force. He noted that military experiences are not all the same – different service branches, varying years of service, distinct

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Eddie Ocampo (left), Jill Sauber (center) and David Best (right).

Legal Services in Minneapolis, regularly advises veterans – both in her private practice and through the Vetlaw program. Sauber has family members and mentors who served in Vietnam, and “feel[s] strongly about giving back to those veterans who were drafted, served, and were lucky enough to return to the States – unappreciated when they returned home from war.” Sauber started volunteering with the Vetlaw program when she was in law school, helping with intake and forms. “It was the perfect way to help veterans in an immediate way.” She, too, emphasized the relationships she builds with Vetlaw clients and how appreciative they are for the help. “The Vetlaw program gives you instant feedback

– the veterans are extremely appreciative for anything you can assist them with, and they leave the legal clinic with more answers than they came with. I love hearing the stories from veterans and getting to know them as we walk through their legal issues during the clinics.” “The law school seeks to foster in its students a commitment to serving those in need,” Dean Robert Vischer said. “Our alumni who volunteer for the Vetlaw program are giving back to men and women who have given so much to our country. We could not be prouder of their contributions to this program.”

who have sacrificed on behalf of the rest of us.” The most rewarding part is “being included in the veterans’ community in even a small way. Despite having extremely diverse backgrounds, political opinions and socioeconomic positions, veterans have many shared goals and are extremely accepting of anyone who is willing to help out a member of their community.” Wolf experiences this culture of gratitude every time he goes to the VA for a pro bono legal advice clinic, he said, when Nick Ingman, an Army veteran and VA employee, brings him a soda and says, “Thanks for your volunteer work helping veterans.” Jill Sauber ’13 J.D. , who practices estate and elder law at Sauber

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Photos by Mark Brown

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Hiring a lawyer is out of reach for more than 60 million Americans. Measured against any disease, environmental crisis or national emergency, the justice gap is an epidemic, according to Lisa Montpetit Brabbit, associate dean for external relations and programs at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. That’s why the School of Law is working hard to find ways to close the gap.

And for the people living in this justice gap (such as seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, survivors of domestic violence, parents or guardians, and rural residents), research shows that 70-80% will experience a significant and life-altering civil legal issue. These concerns commonly include stable and safe housing, freedom from physical and emotional violence, fair employment practices, child welfare and personal health. And some subjects are not identified accurately as legal issues. Consequently, 86% of the civil legal problems experienced by low-income Americans receive inadequate or no legal help, according to Legal Services Corporation (LSC). School of Law faculty and staff are dedicated to fighting injustices. They continually discuss how to help meet the most pressing legal needs. “Our law school’s mission compels us to help provide a voice for the voiceless, empowering those on society’s margins to stay in their homes, with their kids and in their jobs,” said Robert Vischer, dean of St. Thomas Law. Brabbit realized that the School of Law was filled with “fabulous legal talent,” but there was still so much legal need. To help fill this gap, she introduced the idea of a postgraduate fellowship. With the support of John and Sue Morrison, the law school launched its pilot program in 2014, originally called the Access to Justice Fellowships program. It supported five graduates in the program (through 2018) and of those five, three transitioned into permanent public service employment. Kate and Jack Helms sponsored a sixth placement in 2019 and then expanded the effort. Instrumental to the success of the recently renamed Archbishop Ireland Justice Fellows (named to honor the founder of the University of St. Thomas) has been

its innovative funding model, which maximizes the resources of the law school, donors and legal aid organizations. IRELAND FELLOWS AT CENTRAL MINNESOTA LEGAL SERVICES The fellows program places licensed School of Law graduates in one-year, full-time jobs with Minnesota organizations working to address the civil legal needs of individuals who otherwise could not afford assistance from an attorney. Emily Ginsburg ’18 J.D. is a fellowship attorney at Central Minnesota Legal Services (CMLS), which provides free legal services in the areas of family law, housing, criminal expungement, public benefits and licensure. Ginsburg said her passion to work in legal aid was strengthened by her experience working as a law clerk at the Public Defender’s Office in Anoka County and at Legal Assistance of Dakota County. She knew the fellowship would expand her litigation experience, while helping CMLS increase the number of people it serves. Through her work, she’s become more aware of the disparities within the structure of the legal system as it relates to legal services. “Civil cases often involve matters which are of the utmost importance to clients, including custody rights to their children, housing, and access to and maintenance of benefits,” Ginsburg said. “These areas of law, especially family law, can be highly complex and are not designed for pro se litigants, despite the fact that most parties are self-represented.” Ginsburg’s fellowship is funded by Jack and Kate Helms. Jack, a School of Law board of governors member and founder of Helms Capital, said he

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and his wife are interested in the legal access issue for two primary reasons: They want to support the School of Law and “for us, the best way is to find a cause that both assists the school and also serves our primary charitable goal of assisting the least advantaged members of society and helping serve the ‘common good,’” he said. The second reason is that “the legal system is confusing at best and intimidating; yet, without access, these folks face huge issues around housing, health care, family matters, etc., that prevent them from having a fair shot at a dignified, if not fulfilling life,” he continued. The first fellowship recipient at CMLS, Jessica Melheim ’15 J.D. , is now a permanent member of the team. “I knew I was in the right place and didn’t want to leave,” she said. “It is a privilege to be part of a law firm that works toward access to justice.” CMLS provides legal representation and advice to hundreds of domestic abuse survivors every year and Melheim said she’s most proud of the work CMLS does with orders for protection cases. “Having legal representation or even legal advice prior to an order for protection trial or hearing significantly increases the likelihood that the client will be successful in their case,” she said. “For example, I was referred a client who had an order for protection hearing the same day. The client was terrified to see her abuser. She was trembling and having a difficult time articulating the facts of her case,” Melheim said. With about 30 minutes to prepare, Melheim gathered relevant criminal history information on the opposing party, interviewed her client’s adult son who had observed the abuse and outlined her client’s testimony. “Because of the serious physical abuse and continued fear my client experienced, I requested that the judge grant a 10-year order for protection instead of the traditional two-year order,” she said. The judge granted her request. “Having legal counsel helped my client clearly present her story

to the judge with corroboration from her son and resulted in a substantially longer order.” CMLS Executive Director Jean Lastine said she appreciates Melheim’s work “because she brings a passion for serving low-income clients to the position along with law school experiences that enabled her to quickly develop an independent caseload.” The Archbishop Ireland Justice Fellowship provides programs like CMLS the flexibility to take on new attorneys in a way that is mutually beneficial to the organization and the fellowship attorney. “Civil legal aid programs in Minnesota can only represent 40% of the clients eligible for our services,” Lastine said. “Overall, funding sources are not keeping up with our program costs including salaries Jessica Melheim ’15 J.D. started at Central Minnesota Legal Services as an Archbishop Ireland Justice Fellow and now is a full-time employee.

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Jean Lastine, Central Minnesota Legal Services executive director, left, confers with Emily Ginsburg ’18 J.D. and Jessica Melheim ’15 J.D.

“For example, after one of the area’s largest employers laid off nearly 1,000 workers, we had an open house to address their health care and legal issues moving forward. On an individual level, we have represented many individuals and helped them at critical times, whether it’s fighting back against an unjust eviction or advocating for them in family court against an abusive former partner.” He admitted that it can be difficult to hear clients’ stories, but it provides motivation for him to advocate for them and to “balance the scales for someone who would usually have a terrible time navigating the legal system on their own.” The motivation to help those in the justice gap is shared by the partners involved in the Archbishop Ireland Justice Fellowships – the recipient, the employer and the donors. “Our goal is to build the program to provide all the legal aid groups in Minnesota who want and need additional professional help with talented and committed grads from St. Thomas Law, via recurring and revolving one-year placements,” Helms said. “We hope to build an enduring program of recruiting, training, placing and overseeing young lawyers in all these positions.” He gave a nod to Brabbit, whose idea to create the fellowships and “endless energy and vision” keep the program thriving.

and health insurance. The fellowship program has enabled CMLS to leverage our resources and add a position to our office to represent clients when we would otherwise not be able to hire additional staff.”


Like Melheim, Ben Cichanski ’13, ’16 J.D. also transitioned to long-term employment after his fellowship ended with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) in St. Cloud. “I feel that we do meaningful work,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to get a great deal of courtroom experience

working on family law and housing cases. I also represent our clients as part of a new partnership started in 2019 with the pediatric clinic at CentraCare Health with the goal of tackling the legal issues that are adversely impacting health.” MMLA’s work addresses access to justice issues such as domestic violence, immigration, public benefits and housing rights. “I’ve worked on unique and challenging cases in counties across our service area in central Minnesota, and our office has made an impact at both a community and individual level,” Cichanski said.

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Page 24 St. Thomas Lawyer


AS CEOOF SOUTHERN MINNESOTA REGIONAL LEGAL SERVICES, JESSIE NICHOLSON HELPS PROVIDE FREE CIVIL LEGAL AID TO LOW-INCOME FAMILIES. Before you enter Jessie Nicholson’s office at the Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) headquarters in downtown St. Paul, you will see a message posted on her door: “You are now leaving the comfort zone.” It’s a fair heads- up from the organization’s chief executive officer, who has spent her entire law career at SMRLS and at its helm for more than a decade. “We embrace the value that there is not growth in the comfort zone,” said Nicholson, who is also a member of the St. Thomas School of Law Board of Governors. “Staff are encouraged to think that way. Once you become stagnant as a provider for civil legal services, or any business for that matter, the potential to become irrelevant grows. The client population changes, the legal needs of people change, the legal outcome of what those issues are changes, and so we can’t do things the same way we did things five years ago, three years ago or even last year. We have to be able to be nimble and flexible and accountable to our client communities.” For more than a century, SMRLS has provided free civil legal aid to low-income families and individuals. It currently serves 33 counties in Minnesota through numerous locations and

partnerships. Demographics in Minnesota have changed tremendously since the organization began, and SMRLS has grown into a multicultural and multilingual organization with 27 different languages spoken on staff to help people with their legal needs. While SMRLS attorneys work on behalf of disadvantaged people who don’t readily have access to civil legal services, they don’t do this alone. “It’s a community effort, meaning not only the legal system but the provider system in general,” Nicholson said. SMRLS works with social service providers, government entities and people in the welfare system in various counties to make sure they are aware of resources for issues they might not recognize as legal ones. SMRLS has four health care-legal partnerships, so medical staff can refer their patient to SMRLS if the person has a health issue that may be cause for legal intervention. For example, Nicholson said, medical staff at a local hospital were seeing many people from the Karen immigrant community suffering asthmatic symptoms. Thanks to these partnerships, SMRLS was alerted. “We have paralegals who can go into people’s homes and look at the conditions,” Nicholson said. “Some of the people don’t think they have the right to speak up and say the landlord has not fixed the furnace or has not provided adequate ventilation for the apartment. One of the things we have to do is educate people – you

have a right to have an apartment that’s warm enough. The doctors can fix the symptoms [and] we can come and solve the problem.” ALWAYS GIVE BACK When growing up in Waterloo, Iowa, Nicholson listened to Judge William Parker, a pastor and Iowa’s first black judge, as he addressed the teenagers of her church congregation. “I remember him [Parker] at one of our church services, looking out at us and telling us young people who were graduating from high school and thinking about going to college: ‘Never forget where you came from. Always look to give something back to the community.’ That made sense to me. That was something that stuck with me, and it’s something I still believe in,” she said. Nicholson was a Spanish teacher at the University of Northern Iowa when she decided to leave teaching behind to attend law school. She knew she wanted to work in public service, and at one point, she considered a career as a public defender, but decided the civil side of law was a better fit. When she started at SMRLS, she was involved in housing law. She transitioned to class action work, immigration law and served as deputy executive director before taking over as CEO in 2007. Laura Orr ’10 J.D. , a senior attorney in SMRLS’ elder law unit, views Nicholson as a confident leader who has demonstrated to Orr that, “Leadership is empowering others to grow and do their jobs well with a focus on a common mission and values,” she said.

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of the secular Franciscan Order. When she has a chance to travel, she loves going to Italy, where she stays in monasteries and takes the opportunity to explore different communities. Her faith keeps her humble, she said, as does a black-and- white photo of her as a 6-month- old, which sits on a file cabinet in her office. “I look at that daily because it tells me you’re nothing more or you’re nothing less than what it is that God gave you and that’s the life when you’re just a teeny person. I do a job, but that’s not who I am,” said Nicholson, gesturing to the baby picture. “That’s who I am.”

“When I interviewed with Jessie before receiving her offer to work at SMRLS, Jessie stated that her goal for SMRLS was to work itself out of existence,” Orr said. “I was struck by her ability to state so candidly and precisely that true dedication to the work that she loves involves active pursuit of making the work unnecessary.”

“She works tirelessly to support our staff members so we can offer our clients the effective, confident and compassionate representation that they deserve,” Laffey said. “It is this strong, committed, selfless leadership that has resonated with me the most.” As a staff attorney for SMRLS working in the family law practice group, Jonathan Engel ’15 J.D. said Nicholson has encouraged him to not be afraid to step out of his comfort zone and to be bold in his professional goals. “Jessie leads through her passionate service of our clients and the entire staff,” Engel said.


TO ADD ENTHUSIASTIC LAWYERS TO HER STAFF, INCLUDING ST. THOMAS LAWGRADUATES, WHO WILL BRING SMRLS TO THE NEXT LEVEL, NICHOLSON SAID. “One of the things I’ve noticed with St. Thomas graduates is that most of them come in looking at the practice of law from a values-based position,” Nicholson said. “I can ask certain kinds of questions and their responses are clear that they actually are looking to give something to the profession based on their values. I’ve never had an experience of interviewing a St. Thomas lawyer where I haven’t come away with it feeling very edified.” Colin Laffey ’15 J.D. is an attorney with SMRLS’ Agricultural Worker Project, where he represents agricultural workers in employment matters, resolving issues such as wage theft, health and safety concerns and inadequate worker housing. He said Nicholson leads her staff with a “quiet confidence and determination.

STAYING HUMBLE Throughout her time with

SMRLS, Nicholson has earned numerous accolades for her work, including being named to AARP Minnesota and Pollen’s 50 Over 50 list last year. Her bio on the SMRLS website includes too many accomplishments to list, but here are some: Nicholson has been recognized by the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) Civil Litigation Section with the Advocate Award (2014) and the Minnesota Black Women Lawyers Network Achievement Award (2013). She was featured in the exhibit “A Celebration of Women in Law,” organized by the Minnesota Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. While she has every right to boast about her accomplishments, she doesn’t. However, she does share how important her faith is to her, that she sings in the St. Paul Cathedral choir and is a member

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